It’s been nearly 30 years since east Idaho had a judge on the Idaho Supreme Court

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IDAHO FALLS — It’s been 29 years since east Idaho has had a judge appointed to the Idaho Supreme Court, and of the 11 candidates in the running for the latest vacancy, only one hails from this side of the state.

This is the third time east Idaho’s District Judge Gregory Moeller has been considered to fill a vacancy on the supreme court. Moeller is up against nine candidates from Boise and one candidate from north Idaho. The current members of the court are from northern, western and central Idaho.

The last sitting Supreme Court justice from east Idaho was the late Larry Boyle. He was appointed in 1989 to the Idaho Supreme Court. However, President George H.W. Bush appointed him as a Federal Magistrate Judge to the 9th District in 1992, ending eastern Idaho’s influence on the Supreme Court. Boyle died in 2017.

“In theory, it should not make a difference where a judge comes from,” Moeller told EastIdahoNews.com. “A judge from eastern Idaho should interpret and apply statutes and precedents the same way as a judge from Boise or northern Idaho would.”

However, Moeller said the justice system needs to appear legitimate in the public eye.

“If all of the important legal decisions in Idaho are made by a group of justices that for almost three decades has excluded eastern Idaho, that may understandably erode public confidence and trust in the judicial system,” he said.

Supreme Court Justice Joel Horton from Boise will retire on Dec. 31, opening up the vacant seat for a new judge. He served in the Idaho judiciary for over 24 years. Justice Warren Jones retired in 2017 and that vacancy was filled by Justice John Stegner of Moscow. Justice Daniel Eisman also retired in 2017 and that vacancy was filled by Justice G. Richard Bevan of Twin Falls.

The Idaho Supreme Court is generally the final word on interpreting any state law and can only be overruled by a federal court if its ruling involves a federal question. The Idaho Supreme Court’s primary function is to correct errors made in Idaho’s lower courts.

Idahoans do get to have a say in who is chosen to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Those wishing to comment on the candidates can do so by writing a letter and mailing it the Idaho Judicial Council.

“I think (public comments) are very important,” Moeller said. “I know the council puts a lot of weight into them.”

The Idaho Judicial Council is a diverse group of seven people from across the political spectrum and state who interview the various judicial candidates prior to appointment. The chairman of the council is Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Burdick from Boise.

The council is made up of a district court judge, two lawyers who are appointed by the Idaho State Bar and three non-attorneys who are appointed by the Governor. All appointees are approved by the Senate. The various members come from all across the state. Two are from Boise, three are from northern Idaho and two are from eastern Idaho.

After interviewing candidates, the council makes a recommendation to the governor’s office. The sitting governor then appoints the new justice.

As well as nominating people to the governor to fill Supreme Court vacancies, the council can also recommend to the Supreme Court certain judicial officers who may be in need of removal, discipline or retirement. In its disciplinary role, the council investigates complaints against justices and can make recommendations to the Supreme Court of the appropriate action to take.

For the council to have the chance to consider comments from the public regarding Idaho Supreme Court candidates, letters must be received by Aug. 17, 2018.

Letters must be sent to David W. Cantrill, Executive Director, Idaho Judicial Council, P.O. Box 1397, Boise, Idaho, 83701.

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